Samsung Galaxy S 2 vs iPhone 4: Android and iOS titans clash

Brace yourself for a gadget brawl of epic proportions as we put the Samsung Galaxy S 2 in the ring with the iPhone 4, and see iOS and Android duke it out in our most magnificent match-up to date.

Luke Westaway
Luke Westaway is a senior editor at CNET and writer/ presenter of Adventures in Tech, a thrilling gadget show produced in our London office. Luke's focus is on keeping you in the loop with a mix of video, features, expert opinion and analysis.
Luke Westaway
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To many, the iPhone 4 represents the pinnacle of gadgetry. Ask any iPhone owner and they'll happily slide the Jobsian Jesus-phone out their pockets and start showing you apps, before getting distracted and wondering off, pawing at the screen and muttering to themselves. The iPhone sailed through our Greatest Gadget of the 21st Century tournament last year, crushing tech heavyweights like the Xbox 360 and Robosapien 'neath its aluminium-edged boots.

But then there's Android. Growing slicker with every iteration, Google's fantastic mobile operating system has found traction with just about every tech manufacturer, smashing down Apple's walled garden and pouring white spirit on the petunias. The Samsung Galaxy S 2 might just be the greatest Android device yet -- a smart phone of staggering power and beauty, could it be the mobile that finally, finally unseats the iPhone 4?

We've stuck the iPhone 4 and the Samsung Galaxy S 2 side by side in the photo gallery above -- click through to see our two competitors side by side, and make up your own mind about which mobile looks better.


We were immensely impressed with the Galaxy S 2's design. We've postulated that Samsung must have access to some kind of anti-gravity testing lab, because somehow it's crammed a vast amount of high-end tech into a smart phone that weighs only 115g. Very impressive, but even more mind-boggling is that the Galaxy S 2 is just 8.49mm thick -- about a millimetre thinner than the incredibly slender iPhone 4.

Some people will hold the S 2 and say it feels plasticky. That's because it's plastic. But while we normally enjoy a reassuring metal frame, we can forgive the use of plastic in this instance because the build quality of the S 2 is very high. We didn't notice its slim chassis creaking at all, even when we applied some fairly serious pressure. Great stuff.

The iPhone 4 is heavier at 137g, and is 9.3mm thick. It's no porker though: this is one sultry slice of smart phone. A glass back gives the iPhone 4 a pleasant, weighty feel, and the strip of metal around the edges gives it a cool, classy feeling in your palm.

Metal volume and lock keys keep things feeling sturdy, and if that circular home button hasn't reached icon status by now, we don't know what qualifies. The S 2 oozes quality, but for pure tech luxury, the iPhone 4 can't be beat.

Or so it would seem. Anyone rooting (no pun intended) for the Galaxy S 2 will have been reading the last few paragraphs fidgeting in their seats, because there is -- of course -- something about the iPhone 4 we haven't mentioned yet.

Antennagate. A design crisis so severe it made Steve Jobs say sorry, this was the revelation that holding the iPhone 4 in the 'wrong' way could ruin your reception faster than a drunk uncle at your wedding. By having the iPhone 4's antenna built into the outside of the phone it meant fleshy human digits fatally attenuate the signal, causing dropped calls and many a frown among the iPhone community.

That such a massive flaw had been allowed to slip through Apple's testing was humiliating for the Cupertino company, and even though we prefer the look of the iPhone 4 to the Galaxy S 2, we can't in good conscience call the iPhone 4 well designed.

Design winner: Samsung Galaxy S 2.


The Galaxy S 2 has a much bigger display than Apple's phone, measuring a stonking 4.3 inches on the diagonal. It's amazingly bright too, searing a vision of heaven into our retinas within the first few seconds of turning the phone on. The Super AMOLED Plus display looks fantastic (despite having a stupid name), and the sheer size of the 480x800-pixel screen means photos, websites and videos all look fabulous. It's a glorious display all round.

The iPhone 4's display measures only 3.5-inches, but as Doctor Niko 'Nick' Tatopoulos -- the man who floored Godzilla in 1998 -- would tell you, size isn't everything. It might not be as big, but the iPhone 4's display still makes us weep tears of joy, almost a full year after we first clapped eyes on it. With 640x960 pixels at 326 pixels per inch, the retina display is so pin-sharp you have to really, really squint to make out individual pixels.

It's a masterpiece in display tech, and we've lost count of the times we've found ourselves peering distractedly at particularly intricate icons, or zooming in as far as possible in Web pages. Incredibly comfortable to read text on, no other manufacturer has managed to produce a screen of this quality.

Display winner: iPhone 4.


The iPhone 4 is a great collection of hardware. Its A4 chip keeps the whole system ticking along nicely, and it's able to keep different apps running with little noticeable slowdown. Intense 3D games are no bother.

The camera is impressive too. Five megapixels of portable photography pleasure, with 720p recording, the iPhone's camera might be low on features but we've been very pleased with the quality of images it's able to produce.

The Galaxy S 2's camera, despite packing a hefty 8-megapixel sensor, isn't quite as deft when it comes to grabbing gorgeous shots. But it does bring 1080p video recording to the table, besting the iPhone 4 in the camcorder stakes.

The S 2 may also be the fastest Android phone we've ever held -- it certainly feels it -- thanks to a 1.2GHz processor. That muscular chip makes all the difference, and we've never experienced Android running quite so smoothly. There's no lag or stutter in the menu or homescreen transitions, and we struggled to slow the S 2 down -- even with loads of apps open, more apps downloading in the background and Flash video playing in the browser it kept on trucking, with no signs of struggling. We can't argue with that.

Hardware winner: Samsung Galaxy S 2.

Battery life

What use is a smart phone if it doesn't last 5 minutes? Battery tech hasn't quite managed to keep pace with advances in mobile processing and digital displays, and as a result it's rare for any modern mobile to handle a day's intensive use without having to suckle on its power charger like a dehydrated hamster.

A straight battery drain test in this situation would be a little pointless, because frankly you'll end up using your phone for different things depending on whether you own an Android or iOSdevice. On the one hand, running loads of apps simultaneously, Wi-Fi tethering, playing Flash video and numerous other things Android phones can handle will drain the S 2 in next to no time, while graphically intensive gaming or downloading songs from iTunes on the iPhone 4 will equally exhaust your power reserves.

We're left with no choice to call this round a draw. Frankly they're both as bad as each other.

Battery winner: Nobody.


iOSand Android. Android and iOS. We could try to argue which is better, but our time would probably be more productively spent teaching our goldfish to tapdance. The fact is both operating systems have their strengths and weaknesses, and you have to figure out which is best for you based on what you want your mobile to do.

If you want freedom, regular upgrades and the ability to fiddle with your mobile's homescreen and install whatever crazy apps you choose, Android is best. That's why it's often described as geeky -- an almost infinite amount of tinkering is possible, and there's the opportunity to really make a device your own.

iOSis best if you want an uncomplicated, structured experience. You won't find labyrinthine menus or configuration options here, and the apps you can install have all passed under the watchful eye of Apple. Downloading music and movies is incredibly simple -- if sometimes expensive -- and the whole operating system moves with a slickness that makes sliding through menus a genuine pleasure.

But freedom is limited, and a continued lack of Flash support in the browser is a frequent roadblock for online adventurers. Perhaps you object ideologically to the walled-garden approach to tech, or Apple demanding huge cuts for in-app purchases. We'd understand if you did.

There's one aspect, however, in which iOSunequivocally still beats Android, and that's apps. Don't get us wrong, we've played with plenty of brilliant Android apps, but the Apple App Store wins every time.

Finding apps is simple thanks to a brilliant mobile version of iTunes that's much easier to use than the full desktop version, while purchasing and downloading is simple and reliable. Anyone who enjoys mobile gaming will have their heads turned by the App Store's bounty of brilliant mobile games, and the sheer number of excellent productivity tools means you'll never run out of new apps to try.

We're not sure why the Android Market hasn't managed to match the iPhone's app offering. Perhaps it's simply that developers gravitate toward iOS, with more money to be made from an audience used to paying. Or maybe Apple's strict approval process means the overall quality of apps on offer is more encouraging. Perhaps there are just as many great Android apps out there, but the mechanisms for finding and categorising them aren't as refined.

Whatever the reason, searching, purchasing, downloading and using apps on the iOSplatform is simply more entertaining. For the app offering alone, we're giving this one to the iPhone 4.

Software winner: iPhone 4.


It may sound like a cop-out -- it is a cop-out -- but we simply can't choose a victor here. We feel the same about these two phones as we did when we reviewed the iPad and the Samsung Galaxy Tab. They're both fantastic bits of kit, but in different ways, and which one is 'better' will be subjectively based on what you want from a mobile device. It might come down to something as simple as which shape you prefer, or which network has the best deal.

When hardware is this refined, and software this polished, we'd ask you to decide for yourselves. There's no winner in this match-up, but there's also no loser, and whichever phone you opt for you can't really go wrong.

But with Android growing faster than anyone could have predicted, and a new iPhone only months away, the game could change in the blink of an eye. Don't touch that dial.

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